Rebels and traitors is a novel set in the English civil war by author Lindsey Davis, Davis is best known for her novels set in Ancient Rome but here she strays onto one of her favourite periods in English history.
The book is described as a love story between two people on opposite sides of the King v parliament debate which the civil war was fought upon. The book starts as so many start depicting the executing of Charles I on a temporary scaffold outside Whitehall in London, the execution is viewed by Gideon Jakes and Juliana Lovell. Gideon is a soldier in the New Model Army and Juliana is married to a cavalier, they are on opposite sides of the civil war and the book plots their way through the events of the war before they finally meet.
The book is however a bit of a letdown, cast as a love story stretching the divide of the English civil war it is neither a love story nor a fictional retelling of real events. It is a curious combination of the two in which neither side of the story works to its best effect so the book is more a history of the English civil war with a love story tacked on.
The great feeling of a author who loves her subject and feels a need to write a fictional account of real events is evident here, we progress through the civil war step by step all viewed by either Gideon or Juliana and therefore put into perspective. However, the story feels forced and disjointed and the book is neither one thing nor another. There is also the issue that the two main characters don't meet until well into the later third of the novel so Gideon follows the battles of the civil war and Juliana tends to be present at some of the protracted city sieges. You might if you were being unkind wonder how unlucky Juliana actually was because she starts in Bristol, it's besieged, Canterbury, it's besieged, Oxford yes you guessed it it's besieged before finally ending up in a quiet part of Kent where she can still travel to London and back without any problems. This is of course a plot construct, Juliana has to be present at places Gideon would have been forbidden so she can view the cavalier angle of the civil war, so she is strangely present at the capture of the strategic city of Oxford late on in the war despite only going there to see a relative, she is also present at the capture of the king after he escapes from the Tower in 1649 and at his execution.
There is a good story somewhere buried in the need to add a personal or love angle onto the harrowing events which occurred during the civil war. The personal view of Gideon as he battles the King's forces at the famous battles of Marston Moor and Naseby are the best parts of the book and are clearly the passion of the author. She dedicates an awful lot of paper and ink on the various cavalier v roundhead encounters and she delights in casting the cavalier soldiers as snobbish brutes whereas the roundheads are proud fighters for political freedom even Cromwell gets a good press.
Overall a bit of a missed opportunity, I think the author should have been brave enough to have written a novel about the civil war from a single perspective, so a soldier in one of the armies or perhaps a cavalier and a roundhead but two characters which are so dissimilar but are used as rather unlikely witnesses to the major events of their times feels a bit forced. I feel that this novel is also a good 200 maybe 300 pages too long and could have done with a fairly extensive edit especially when Juliana is engaged in one siege after another. They are too similar and little or nothing is truly different except the titular city.
So a long rather muddled book but a reasonable read.